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Man killed by police vowed he would not be jailed again

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A man with a history of impaired-driving charges told friends he would "pretend he had a weapon" so authorities would shoot him, rather than go back to jail, police said Friday afternoon.

Police shot and killed Craig M. Keith, 34, early Friday after he led officers from several agencies on a chase spanning three counties. Keith -- who had been living in Charleston and was originally from Altoona, Pa. -- was shot after police used spike strips to stop his vehicle on Interstate 77 in Jackson County.

Keith had served time in Pennsylvania on charges of driving under the influence, assault and obstructing officers, West Virginia State Police Sgt. Michael Baylous said during a news conference Friday afternoon.

After Keith was killed, a friend of his told police that Keith had said he would not be sent back to jail, Baylous said.

"He was willing to do whatever necessary to keep from going back to jail," Baylous said, "including pretending he had a weapon to have police shoot him."

According to Baylous, Keith got out of his vehicle on the interstate before he was shot. Baylous would not say if Keith had a weapon, citing the ongoing investigation.

The chase began at the Mardi Gras Casino and Resort in Nitro at about 2:20 a.m. Casino security workers called police after Keith was asked to leave and created a disturbance.

When Nitro police arrived, Keith ran. Police chased him on foot before he jumped into a tan Chevrolet Blazer and fled toward Charleston.

The chase -- which eventually included officers from Charleston, South Charleston and Dunbar; the Kanawha County and Jackson County sheriff's departments and State Police troopers -- continued onto Corridor G. Keith first headed south into Lincoln County, then turned around and headed toward Jackson County, Baylous said Friday morning.

He said Keith tried to ram police cruisers and veered dangerously close to other vehicles on the road during the chase, which reached up to 90 mph.

"He was not just trying to get away from us, he was driving recklessly," Baylous said. "This guy showed from the beginning that he was not going to listen to authority or be apprehended. He was out of control."

Once Keith headed north on Interstate 77, police were able to deploy spike strips near mile marker 132, just below the Fairplain exit, about 25 miles north of Charleston.

When Keith's vehicle stopped, officers treated the scene like a felony traffic stop, Baylous said. In such situations, officers tell a driver to raise his hands so police can see them. They might tell the driver not to get out of the vehicle.

Keith's behavior "already showed he was not going to obey any commands from anyone in authority," Baylous said. "As a result of his conscious decision not to obey any commands, he was shot and pronounced dead later at the hospital."

Baylous did not know how many agencies were at the shooting scene or how many officers fired, but he did know there were at least a couple of troopers in the pursuit. He did not know which officer fired the fatal shot.

No police officers or other people were injured in the counties-wide chase, but there was some damage to various cruisers, Baylous said.

The midnight premiere of the new Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises," was just letting out at Marquee Cinemas at Southridge Centre when the chase passed, going north on Corridor G. Witnesses said at least nine police cruisers from different agencies sped down the highway, apparently chasing someone.

"No one was hurt, thankfully, but I can't stress enough that this adult made a conscious decision for it to go this way," Baylous said. "It's unfortunate that it had to go this way, but our officers had to respond to the immediate threat in the situation.

"His pattern of his behavior showed the whole way that he wasn't going to listen to anyone in authority. He made a conscious decision for it to end this way."

Troopers collected evidence on I-77 Friday morning and spoke with witnesses nearby, Baylous said. I-77 was closed in both directions at the Fairplain exit for much of Friday morning.

Reach Kathryn Gregory at kathryng@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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